Writer: Marcus Gardley
Director: Indhu Rubasingham
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Hypocrisy turns up in many guises, at any time and in any place. In 17th Century France, Molière embodied the trait in the character of Tartuffe and now American playwright Marcus Gardley finds it in modern day Atlanta, giving his new verse play the alternative title: The Gospel of Tartuffe.
Gardley gives us a what is in effect an amorality tale of born again hypocrites practicing in the American Bible belt. Chief among them is Apostle Toof (Lucian Msamati), a charismatic preacher who casts a congregation under his spell, heals a young woman who has been crippled by a British horse and leads her into a private room to seduce her. He then proceeds to the estate of a dying fried chicken billionaire, Organdy (Wil Johnson) on a mission to minister to him and cheat his family out of his money.
Indhu Rubasingham’s boisterous production, played on spacious sets designed by Tom Piper, begins well in the Holy Roll Cathedral with stirring gospel singing led by Sharon D Clarke. However, the first half of the play is weak on structure and purpose, eventually hitting a slump out of which even this energetic company has difficulty lifting it.
Happily the second half is much tighter, highlighted by several notable set pieces. A meeting between Toof’s formidable wife (Clarke) and Organdy’s explosive fiancée, Peaches (Adjoa Andoh) is a clash of the Titans, leaving us wondering how on Earth men ever got control of the Church (or anything else for that matter).
The avaricious and lecherous Toof still has his eyes on the cash and at least one of the ladies. He pleases Organdy by seemingly curing his gay son, Gumper (Karl Queensborough) of his “sickness” and attempting to bring his rebellious prodigal daughter, Africa (Ayesha Antoine) back into the fold. Job done, a banquet begins and Toof, still in preacher mode, says grace in a hilarious form of spoken hip-hop, before homing in closer to his real targets.
The play is a not entirely satisfying mix of absurd humour and obvious metaphors. At times it is inventive and at other times dull, but, in spite of its inconsistencies, it is often highly entertaining and always the performances are a delight.
Finally, Gardley puts his cards on the table when Toof delivers a “there is no God, greed is good” sermon preached with all the fervour and persuasiveness that he had used to praise the Lord earlier. Now we have to ask which of the two Toofs is right and which is the hypocrite? But maybe both are both.
Runs until 14 November 2015 | Image: Mark Douet